Mud Season

Chapter 20


Dinner was simple and delicious – Caesar salad, linguini with Mom’s outstanding vegetarian sauce, and Ally’s garlic bread.  There was plenty, but I didn’t eat that much, and when gelato was served for dessert I said I’d have some later on.  I stayed at the table when everyone else left, and Tom came back and sat down.


“What’s wrong?” he asked.


“I don’t know, but it feels like things are falling apart.  This is like what you hear about on CNN.  Somebody’s running around killing people, and it doesn’t seem like he cares who they are.  Dad and Dana and Elenora are all there where they could get hurt, and I’m afraid for them.  I’m here in Boston, kinda not doing anything useful.  I just … I don’t know.”  I shrugged my shoulders.


Tom said, “You don’t think what you’re doing is useful?  You’re taking care of a whole family, Paul.  I don’t know what they’d be like if this all played out in Stockton, but I see what you’re doing here.  It’s like all they have to worry about is Russ, and everything else just happens for them before they think of it.  If you need help from me, say something, but don’t say you feel useless.  I think you’re doing great, and you should feel good about it.”


“You’re serious?” I asked, and Tom assured me he was.  That sounded important coming from Tom, because we were so rarely serious about anything at all.  He was the only friend I had who could match me in bullshit.  His style was different and sometimes even more preposterous than mine, but he could keep me going for a while, and other people would hang on it forever if he didn’t laugh and say he was kidding. I tend to get more and more outrageous until I elicit some groans.


I said, looking at the table and feeling bad for myself I think, “I don’t know what to do now.  I don’t even know what these people think of me.”

When I didn’t look up, Tom tapped the top of my hand, which was on the table.  “How can you not know, Paul?  I can see the admiration the Glovers and your mother and Ally have for you, and Ian freaking loves you!”  He leaned forward and looked right at me.  “I admire you, too.”  He grinned, “I always said I was going to say something nice to you, and that was it, but it’s true.  You’re okay, man, you really are.”


I snickered at his grin.  “Well, I guess if you say so …”


“I do say so.”


The doorbell rang right then, and I heard Ally call out that she’d get it.  I looked back at Tom and said, “Thanks.  You’re a real friend.”


He smiled, “Feel like taking a walk?  I liked that the other night.”


“Where to?” I asked.


Tom shrugged, “Why don’t you just show me around the neighborhood here?  I think it’s neat.”


“I can do that,” I said, and Tom’s face suddenly looked terrified.  Simultaneously the light coming in from the hallway turned into a gigantic human shadow.  I jumped up so quickly that I banged my leg painfully on the table’s edge and sent my chair skidding across the floor as I spun around.  My heart was pounding.


“Easy, amigo; take it easy.  It’s just me.”


“Hector!” I cried.  I ran to him and gave him what I could for a hug.  I was only able to reach his back with my hands because his chest and arms were so big.  He patted my upper back, and then pushed me out to arm’s length to look at me.


His smile was benign when he said, “It’s good to see you.”  He looked over at Tom and I turned my head.  Tommy’s eyes were wide with wonder now, as he confirmed for himself that my description of Hector had never been exaggerated at all.  He stood and Hector held his hand out.  “You must be Tom.  I’ve heard about you and I’m glad we can finally meet.”


Tom nervously held his hand out, and looked relieved when Hector shook it gently.  He smiled at Hector and said, “I heard a lot about you, too.”


I looked at Hector and said, “We were just going to take a walk.  Want me to show you around?”


Hector said, “That sounds good, but first I’d like to meet everyone here.  I’m taking Dave Chapman’s place.  He’s an investigator and they want him in Vermont.  He’s on his way right now.”


I grinned, “You already met Ally.  What do you think?”


Hector hesitated, smirked, and said, “Your mother shares my taste in women.”


I think my jaw dropped before I burst out laughing.  My mother looks like a little girl beside Ally, and I probably look like a little boy next to Hector, so just trying to picture Hector and Ally together kind of strained my brain.  Unarmed they could clear rooms … nay, auditoriums and sports arenas.  Properly equipped, they’d be able to frighten the southern population of Arizona right into Mexico, where they, too, could be illegal immigrants.


Hector said, “The father has mobility problems?”


I shrugged, “He gets around okay, but his legs are really messed up.”


Hector frowned, “The others?”


“There’s only his wife and their younger kid, Ian.  They both seem fine, at least physically.”




I said, “Ian’s eleven.  The parents … I don’t know; about the same as mine I think.”


Hector said, “Close enough.  Introduce me, and then we’ll take a walk.”


I glanced at the clock on the wall, and it was almost eight.  I didn’t really know where everyone was, but we found them together in the formal living room.  Ian was on the carpet putting Legos together in random constructions, and the adults seemed to be having a light-hearted conversation.  That was good.


We walked in and Ian looked up.  When he saw Hector before him he said, “Wow!” in an awed voice, and stood up.


I said, “Ian, this is Hector.  He’s here to look after us.  Let me introduce him and we’ll come back.  We’re going for a walk outside if you want to come.”


Ian jumped and said, “I’ll go!” and followed as we went to meet the adults.


“Everyone, this is Hector Torres from the security company.  He was with us in Florida, and he’s taking Dave’s place here.”


I introduced everyone, and when Hector met Mr. Glover, who introduced himself as Arnie, Hector asked, “What happened to your legs, Arnie?”


Mr. Glover grinned and said, “I was run over by sea-to-air missiles, five of them to be exact, five hundred pounds each.  It was a bad weld that broke, and I was in the wrong place.”


Hector and I both winced, and I’m sure everyone else did as well.


Hector mumbled, “Ouch.”


Mr. Glover laughed and said, “Yeah.  Big ouch!  I’m okay now, though.  The legs don’t work right anymore, but they don’t pain me often, and I manage.”


God, I felt bad for him.  Just from his torso I could tell that he’d been a big, strong guy, and his acceptance of his condition said a lot about his character.  Mr. Glover managed for sure, and he did it with humor and grace.  I liked him from the first time we met, as I did Russ, Ian and Mrs. Glover. They were a great family – ‘good people’ as Lisa’s father would put it.


Hector smiled and said, “I’m going to step outside with Paul and Tom to get my bearings.  I’ll be back, but don’t wait up for me.  I’ll be around if you need anything.”


I chuckled, “Yeah, he’ll be around.  He’ll be disguised as a brick in Boston.”


Hector grinned and nudged me, “Could be, but which brick?”


I said, “The see-all and know-all brick.  Do we need jackets?”


Hector shook his head, “It’s pretty warm out.”


I looked at Mrs. Glover.  “Is it okay if Ian goes with us?  We’ll be in the neighborhood.”


She replied, “That’s fine.  Just don’t keep him out too late.”


“We won’t.”  I looked around, “You guys ready?  Anyone need the bathroom or anything first?”


We all did.  I pointed Hector to the one off the hall, and the rest of us went upstairs to our rooms, and we met down in the entrance foyer.  We went out to the street and stood there until Darius approached, and I told him we were just going to show Hector around the neighborhood.


Darius smiled, “I think you’re in good hands.  I’ll be here, so make sure I know when you’re back.”


We walked off and I said to Hector, “You met Darius already, I see.”


“Yes.  Once in a teleconference, and again tonight before I came inside.  He’s a good man.”  He bopped my shoulder, “Are you going to tell me what I’m looking at?”


“Me too,” Ian piped up.


Tom added, “And me.”


I said, “Okay, okay.  This is just a neighborhood called Beacon Hill, and I only know my way around, not who lives in these places.  It’s a real neighborhood, though, and the people who live here know each other.  Check out the doors and the entrances.  I think when the area was built up there was some competition to outdo your neighbors.  Look at the door knockers, too.  They’re all neat, and some are pretty funny.”


“How old are these places?” Hector asked.


“Right around here mostly date from the late 1700s.  This is the South slope.  It was all laid out by architects.  The North slope looks like it just kind of happened.  These places have all been kept up over the years.”


Ian had been looking up and asked, “Are those dogwood trees with the white flowers?”


I looked myself, as did Tom and Hector, and I said, “They’re pear trees.”


I heard a cell phone ring, and it was Hector’s.  We all stopped, and he walked away from us to talk in private.  He stood about fifteen feet from us, and hurried back once he closed his phone.  “We have to join a conference call.  There are some major changes in the case.  Take us the quickest way, Paul.”


The quickest way was to backtrack, and we hadn’t really gone very far.  I’d been heading toward Charles Street and we simply went back the way we came.


Darius was on the front stoop when we got to the house, and told us the street was still covered.  We went back inside and I told the others to go into the dining room, and led a dejected Ian back to the living room.  I let the adults there know what was going on, and that we’d bring them up to date when we were done.  Then I hurried back to the dining room where Hector, Darius and Tom were waiting for me.  Darius immediately asked if I could find an extension cord because both his and Hector’s phone had low batteries.


I smiled and said, “Give me the chargers,” and when they did I ducked under the table and plugged them into one of the power strips that Ally had installed so she and Mom would have a place to plug food warmers in when they had a buffet-type party.  I climbed out without hitting my head and said, “Plug ‘em in.”


They did, and Darius said, “Well I’ll be,” while Hector rolled his eyes and shook his head.


Hector said, “I’ll dial,” and he did, and turned the speaker on.  We heard it ring, and a computer answered asking for a conference code and some other confirmation code, which Hector entered.  The voice came back and said the call would commence when the moderator started the conference.  It went to music.


I asked, “Hector, did they say what’s happening?”


“No, my boss only said it gets worse.”


We all went silent, and it was several minutes before the music quit and I knew the call was open.  I could hear people murmuring, various bumps and other noises, and then a voice said, “Let’s get started here.  This is Captain Desaulniers in Vermont.  Do we have Attorney Sutton’s group on?”


Bernie said, “We’re here.”


“Paul Dunn, are you there with your security team and Mr. ah, Mr. Timeck?”


I said, “We’re here.”


“Good.  Let’s get going then.  I have some new facts to put out, so bear with me.  I have the report from the medical examiner, with the preliminary autopsy results.  On the surface, things agree with the findings at the crime scene.  Five juveniles were strangled and three adults were shot to death, both females through the heart, and the male in the head … the face.  Time of death is always hard to prove, but the investigation and the medical results seem to indicate that these people were murdered over the course of a twenty-four hour day, and weren’t killed where they were found.


“Now for the surprises.  First, the man found inside the house was, in fact, the owner of the house and the father of the woman and children found outside.  He was carrying the identification of his brother-in-law; let’s see … Robert Bennett of Ridgewood, New Jersey.  He wasn’t … ah … visibly identifiable, so the investigators assumed he was Mr. Bennett.”


An unidentified voice asked, “Is this Robert Bennett your primary suspect now?”


Desaulniers said, “I can’t say that right now.  We don’t even know if he was here in Vermont with his family, so let me get to the rest of this.”




“The autopsies found one other thing out of the ordinary.  The young Wolcott girl, eleven year old Joyce, was about six weeks pregnant, and there were signs of recent sexual activity: semen found on her vaginal area and her panties.”  His voice really tightened when he said that, and there was a long pause.  Finally, “DNA samples from the girl, all the males present, the fetus, and the fluids on the girl are under analysis to determine paternity.”


“And to catch a killer?’ someone asked.


“We don’t know if this is even connected right now.  We need to locate Mr. Bennett, and we have to look at the people Miss Wolcott associated with.  There may be no connection.  Right now that’s it.  There is a news conference at ten, and we’ll name the victims and the means of death, not all of the details I’ve revealed here.  Questions?”


There were questions, lots of them.  People wanted to know about the means used to strangle the kids, the type of gun used, was there just one?  Then they got into the suspected order and times of death, and further into minutiae until the Captain said he had to leave for his news conference.


There was silence when Hector closed his phone.  There was nothing to say.  I think each of us was considering his personal vision of the horrors that occurred in that home, and the wanton cruelty of the perpetrator.  Eight people were dead and lumped together as if to confuse the investigation.  A little girl had been pregnant when, in my mind, that wouldn’t seem possible given her age.  Someone, probably the same person, had gone around terrorizing Stockton after killing all those people, and he killed two more, and tried to kill Russ Glover.  Things had been quiet for a few days, and nobody knew anything about him except that he was a big guy with a shotgun.


I practically jumped out of my skin when my phone went off, and I think everyone else jumped, too.  It was Bernie Sutton, and I answered with, “Hi, Bernie,” as Hector and Darius unplugged their phone chargers and left the room with Tommy.


“You sound nervous,” Bernie said.


My heart rate was definitely up.  “I am nervous.  It was quiet as a tomb here after the call, and then this phone vibrated and rang, and I about had a heart attack.”


“Paul, have you visited Russ Glover yet?”


“No.  Only his family is allowed in, and just for short visits.  He’s awake now, I think, or he wakes up sometimes.  It’s not a coma anymore.  Why are you asking?”


Bernie mumbled something under his breath and said, “I was hoping to get in to see him with an investigator.  He may be the only person able to give an identity to the man who beat him, and I think it’s naïve to believe there’s more than one murderous person on the loose in Stockton.”


“I don’t think he can talk now.  His jaw was broken and they did something so he can’t move it.”


There was a pause, and Bernie said, “I only saw Russell that one day, and later at dinner.  He struck me as an intelligent kid and a good communicator.  Do you agree with that?”


I thought for a second, and I agreed with Bernie.  “I think so, too.  You’re right.”


“Then he can help us without using words.  We can give him a way to signal yes, no, or I don’t know, and get a simple description of his attacker.  If he can write with his good hand, that’s even better, especially if he does know who it is.  What we need is to obtain permission to visit him.  If the visits must be kept short, we’ll just have to keep going back.  Our first concern has to be for Russell’s comfort, and we certainly don’t want to hinder his recovery.  It is important, though.  As far as we know he may be the only living person in the area who has been face-to-face with the suspect.  The police have contacted New Jersey where they’re trying to locate a recent picture of the brother-in-law, Mr. Bennett.  They’re also trying to determine his whereabouts, but so far he seems a likely candidate.”


“Okay,” I said.  “Is there something you want me to do?”


Bernie snickered, “Of course there is.  I’d like you to tell the Glovers what we want to do … kind of feel them out; tell them to think it over and talk about it between themselves, and ask them to call me no matter what they decide.”


“I can do that,” I said.  “Weren’t there any pictures in that house?”


“I understand that they haven’t found any pictures that identify anyone.  The one obvious thing missing from Mr. Bennett’s wallet was his driver’s license, assuming he had one.  I’m sure the New Jersey police will come up with something, and they’ll get it to us.  For now, I’m going to get in touch with Dr. Alan Fritz.  He’s in charge of Russell’s care, and we’re acquainted.  I’ll bow to his advice of course, but I’ll also make sure he understands the magnitude of this case, and that it has gone national and international since this morning.”


“It has?” I asked, although I should have expected it.  There were ten dead people and five of them were children.  The authorities were scrambling to find an unknown suspect, and that suspect seemed to be good at vanishing and leaving no tracks.


Bernie said, “I can mention the likelihood that Nancy Grace will pick up the story, and she’ll do her best to make the authorities look like hacks and non-performers.  Lord, if she ever learns the only potential eye-witness is in a Boston hospital and Dr. Fritz has been denying police access to him, her rage might melt some satellites right out of the sky.”


I laughed and said, “I’ll see if the Glovers are still up.  If they aren’t, I’ll talk to them first thing.”


“Thanks, Paul.  I’ll get a call in to Dr. Fritz.  There’s no telling when he’ll get back to me.  I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”


I went back to the living room where I found Tom and Darius with Mr. and Mrs. Glover.  Everyone looked up when I came in.  I said, “I get it.  Hector gave Mom and Ally vanishing lessons, didn’t he?”


Tom said, “Not quite.  Hector is getting a tour of the house and Ian went up to bed.”


I liked my idea better, but I smiled and said to Tom, “I have to speak with the Glovers for a minute, so maybe Darius can show you his gun.  You don’t mind, do you?”


Tom and Darius were already on their feet headed to the door, and I took a seat opposite the Glovers.


Mr. Glover leaned forward and asked, “What’ up?”


“I was just on the phone with Bernie Sutton.  He wants me to ask you to think something over.”


“And that would be?” Mr. Glover asked.


“As soon as possible, he wants to visit Russ with an investigator to see if Russ can give them a description of the guy who attacked him.”  I had a sudden thought, “Um, did Hector talk to you about our conference call?”


Mrs. Glover’s expression became angry.  “Yes he did,” she said tersely.  “Murder after murder, and now we learn that sweet little Joyce Wolcott was pregnant?  She’s eleven years old, for God’s sake, just a little girl.”  She shook her head, “That whole family destroyed, and for what?”


Her husband patted her arm, and I said, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”


Mr. Glover shook his head quickly.  “It’s not you, Paul, believe me.  It’s this whole situation with Russ and … everything … the killings.  Of course Bernie can interview Russ as soon as the doctor says it’s okay. You did tell him that Russ can’t talk, didn’t you?”


“I did.  He said they’d figure out a way.  He knows Dr. Fritz and will ask his approval, too, and they’ll go back for several short interviews if Russ gets too tired.”


“We’d like to be there when this takes place,” Mrs. Glover said.


I said, “Thanks.  I’ll tell Bernie.  I’m sure he hoped you would go with him.”


Mr. Glover said, “I’d like you to visit too, Paul.  I think Russ would appreciate seeing someone his age in that strange place he’s in.”


“Strange?” I asked.


Mr. Glover smiled, “Strange to him is what I meant.  He hasn’t been in a hospital since he was born, not even to visit that I can recall.  He’s never been to a big city, either, and I don’t know what he thinks when he sees what’s out the window.  You might help him focus, because he knows you’re from Boston, and you have the same accent as the people taking care of him.  The few times we’ve seen him awake he doesn’t seem frightened, but … bewildered is a good word for it.  Come with us.”


“Okay, sure,” I said.  “How about if Tommy comes, too?  They hit it off pretty well that weekend.”


Mrs. Glover finally smiled, “Oh, yes!  Russ told us how funny the two of you were together.”


Her husband laughed, and added, “Yeah, he said he thought he’d get a hernia when you two were arguing over some cheese. Bring Tom along for sure!”


As if on cue, Tom came into the room.  He was followed by Darius, my mother, Ally and Hector.  Tommy asked, “Bring Tom along for what?”


I started to say something, but Mr. Glover said, “We want you to visit our son in the hospital tomorrow.  Paul is coming, and we think if he sees some friends he won’t feel like he’s in another world.”


Tom shrugged, “Sure; I’ll go.  I’m easy.”  He grinned and pointed at me before sitting down, “You’re always volunteering me for something.”


I said, “That’s because you’re a natural do-gooder at heart.  If I was a Republican I’d call you a Socialist.”


Ally said, “Don’t say that word in this house!”


“Socialist?” I asked.


“No, Republican.  We just had the woodwork painted.”


Everyone burst out laughing, and Mom brought out a bottle of sherry.  The Glovers each took a little glass, as did Mom and Ally.  Hector and Darius declined while Tom and I weren’t even offered a sip.


I looked at my phone for the time, and it was still before ten.  I decided to call Lisa and said goodnight to everyone.  Tom left with me, and we snuck into Ian’s room to borrow his phone so Tom could make a similar call.


I caught Lisa up on what was going on, and she was really appalled by it all.  “I heard about these things Paul, and it gets me so mad when somebody goes off on a toot and starts killing people for no reason.  And that little girl!  My God, who has sex with an eleven-year-old who doesn’t even look that old?  Have you seen the pictures of that family?”


I was surprised Lisa had.  “No.  Where did you see them?”


Lisa said, “Turn on the television; it’s the first thing you’ll see.  What a beautiful family: it’s so hard to believe they’re all gone, especially that girl.  She was just gorgeous, and so full of life.  It showed in those pictures; she loved life.  It makes me sick to think of her being dead ... murdered.  It’s horrible!”


“Me too.”  I tried to lighten the mood a little bit.  “We’re going to the hospital to see Russ tomorrow.  Bernie and some investigator want to get a description of the guy that beat him up.  So far, the cops don’t even know who they’re looking for, at least not for sure.  His folks want me and Tom to go just so Russ will know somebody.  This all depends on the doctors allowing it.  Bernie was calling the head doctor after we talked.”


“Is Russ that much better?” Lisa asked.


“I don’t really think so, but he does wake up sometimes.  Bernie thinks it’s all one guy that did this, but the police want to be sure before they say anything.  If Russ knows who beat him up, there’s a good chance it’s the guy who killed all those people.”


“But Russ ...”


“Don’t worry.  Bernie said Russ comes first, and he won’t push anything until it’s okay.  Oh, guess who came to dinner?”


“Um, Alice from Wonderland?  The tooth fairy?  I give up.  Who came to dinner?”


I said, “Well, nobody actually; it was after dinner, but Hector is here!”


“Hector from Florida?”


I laughed, “The one and the same, and he scared the hell out of me and Tommy.  When he walked through the kitchen door it was like the lights went out, and Tom looked like he was seeing King Kong live and in person.  Tom’s face scared me, and I got up so fast I almost broke my leg on the table.  Then I turn around and it’s Hector calling me amigo like he does.”


Lisa giggled, and then said, “I bet you’re glad he’s there.  Are you?”


“Yeah, I’m glad.  We haven’t had a chance to talk yet, but it seems like he’s a legend in his own company.”  I snickered, “I told my mother Hector would disguise himself as a Boston brick, and he probably will.”


Lisa said, “I have news, too.  Daddy has teamed up with a high-end home products company, and they’re going to market his tiles all over the U.S. and Canada.”  Her voice softened, “Those videos you brought were important.  They already liked the tiles, but the waterfalls sold them.”


“That’s really great,” I said.  “Are you gonna work for him now?”


“Now?” she asked.  “We’ve been working for him since forever.  Now we might get paid for it.”  She let out a sigh, “I don’t mean that.  Dad is good to us.  We get what we want, at least if it’s not crazy expensive.  We help him when we can, like two summers ago when we built that shop.  It was me and Al, Mom and Dad, but we did it.  He hired people for the electric and plumbing.  He got a helper to build the kiln because we were back in school, but the rest of it was just us.  Al and I did the roof by ourselves after Dad set the lines straight.”


I didn’t even ask.  If Lisa knew about setting lines straight and I didn’t know what she was talking about, she could set the lines straight forever.  That would make it another thing I didn’t need to learn.  To sound interested I asked, “You know how to nail shingles?”


Lisa groaned, “It’s a fiberglass roof, Paul.  Al did the nailing and I did the caulking.”


“Oh,” I said. “I guess I never really saw the roof.  Fiberglass, huh?  Doesn’t that itch?”


Lisa sounded exasperated.  “What are you talking about?  Itch?  Why would roof panels itch?”


I tried to save myself.  “Oh, roof panels.  I didn’t know they made those from fiberglass.  I guess I was thinking about insulation.  Someday you’ll have to tell me all about roofing.”


“Sure.  Someday I will; that will be fun.” she said dubiously.


I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to get my foot out of my mouth.  Bernie calls it an orisextractopedy and claims that’s the proper Latin term.  It may well be, and it sounds funny even if I’ll probably never know for sure.


Lisa didn’t care.  If we had a future together and ever needed a roof, we could save on a contractor if we decide on fiberglass.


The truth is, we were both upset and concerned about the disaster in Stockton, and worried that the perpetrator, whoever it was, might start up again.  We were worried about Russ Glover; we were worried about a lot, and worry wasn’t a normal condition for either of us, so we talked about other things until we said good night.


I thought about looking for Hector so we could talk, but I was tired and went to bed instead.  I couldn’t sleep though.  I knew why, but didn’t want to acknowledge it.  Lisa said the pictures were on television, just turn it on.  I didn’t want to.  Maybe I’m a coward, I don’t know, but I knew the Wolcott family had been killed and I didn’t really want to see what they looked like in life, at least not yet.


It took a long time before I decided I’d never get to sleep if I didn’t look at the television and confront the picture or pictures.  I pulled on my pants and went down to the kitchen.  It was just after midnight and the house was dark and quiet.  I turned the little television on and played with the remote until I found the CNN headline channel.  Sure enough, in just a few minutes they put up a picture of the Wolcott family while the lady read her script.  I looked at the picture, and they were all nice looking people.  The parents looked like movie stars, and the kids were all on the perfect side of the fence.  The older boy was handsome, the younger one cute, and the girl was just beautiful.


Maybe the photo had been taken at a perfect moment, but I saw what Lisa had seen.  Joyce was really pretty; blonde with blue eyes, but that wasn’t it.  Her eyes were mischievous and looked intelligent at the same time, alive and expectant, and her smile was wide and bright at first glance, but both ends turned down just a trace like there was melancholy behind it.  The picture said a lot, I think, but in a language I didn’t understand.  She died at eleven years old, with a baby inside her and signs of recent sexual activity on her body.


Before I could think too long, the picture went off and the next story started, but I was already crying and I couldn’t make myself stop.  I didn’t know those people, but I had lived in close proximity to them.  They looked like a really nice family, and their deaths made them fodder for the low-life side of the news industry.  I suppose their fates earned them that dishonor.  That shrew Nancy Grace, had them in her talons, and the lead-in to her show had her already berating the local and state police, the FBI,  the coroners, and the idea that the ‘medical profession’ was actively hiding a valuable witness.  I shut the thing off, thinking CNN was promoting a certifiable lunatic.


My anger at how the media was handling this put a stopper to my tears, but rage didn’t feel that much different than sorrow.  I walked into the formal parlor and found Mom’s bottle of sherry and poured some into a snifter.  I took it to my room and went to bed without drinking any.  I think I was asleep soon enough, and I slept surprisingly well.


I’m not sure what time it was, but the sky had gone from black to gray when Ian tapped on my door and asked if he could come in. 


I said, “I’m sleeping, but come on in.”


I didn’t even open my eyes, but I heard when the door closed behind him and patted the bed beside me.  “What’s up?”


Ian hurried over and stretched out on top of the covers beside me.  “I don’t want to be alone anymore.  You can sleep.”


I managed to sit up a little and said, “Get under the covers and go to sleep.  I don’t want to be alone either.”  That wasn’t the exact truth, but it worked.  Ian climbed in with me, wiggled around to get comfortable and warm up his side, and conked out.  My side was already warm, and I was out as soon as I put my head back down.


I woke to Ian prodding my shoulder.  “What’s that smell?  Is it smoke?”


My eyes opened, and I didn’t smell anything at first, but it soon got through to me.  Ally was baking!  The aroma told me that good things were in store, and I smiled at the ceiling.  I turned to Ian and said, “Get up.  Go to your room and get ready for the day.  I’ll meet you in the kitchen!”


Ian lifted the covers and looked a question at me.  I said, “Go, man!  It’s food.”


Ian was funny.  His eyebrows shot up to his hairline like he’d never heard the word food before, and his face widened into a broad smile.


“Okay,” he said.  “See you downstairs.”


I didn’t take long getting ready even though I took the time to shave and pick out clothes that looked ironed.  I hurried downstairs to make sure that whatever Ally was making would still be hot.  My timing was right.  There were cinnamon buns cooling on the counter and croissants almost ready to come out of the oven.  Flats of pita were ready to go in the oven next.  Mom was frying up chopped onions and peppers, and had a plate of paper-thin lamb strips ready beside a bowl of chopped tomatoes and another of crumbled feta cheese.


Greek omelets!  They don’t take any getting used to, and no matter how they’re constructed it’s a delicious breakfast.


I got a little plate and snagged a cinnamon bun, and poured myself a coffee.  Ally rushed in to check the oven, and she pulled the croissants out.  She managed to say, “Hi, Paul,” while she looked for counter space for the tray.  “Did you sleep well?”  She took another tray and put a half-dozen pitas on it, and turned up the oven before shoving it in.  “I have to work today, I really do.  In the office, I mean.  There are things that don’t just happen.  I don’t want anyone to think I don’t respect their problems, but I do run a business, and I have an issue to get out.”


I was smiling.  An anxious Ally was like the Tasmanian devil cartoons, where she spun in a small orbit with things happening all around her in a cloud of dust.  “People understand, you know,” I looked around and my mother had disappeared.  I asked, “What happened to Mom?”


Ally glanced at me and went back to what she was doing.  “If you can believe it, she’s next door begging for some olive oil.  We’re out!”


“Next door with the guy who’s trying to buy you out?”


“Yes,” Ally hissed, “The one and the same.”


I asked, “How’s that going, anyhow?”


Ally turned and looked at me.  “The place isn’t for sale, Paul.  I don’t know how that started, but it’s not for sale.  Our lease is good for another thirteen years, and by that time we’ll be ready for Sunny Acres anyhow.  As for the man next door, I think he’s learned something about throwing stones.”


“Glass houses?”  I asked.


Ally smirked, “You’re quick, Paul.  Yes, glass houses.  He thought he could throw stones at the same time as he entertained a horde of young men.  Good for him that they’re of legal age, but it’s still creepy if you ask me.”


Mom walked in then, holding a tall, square bottle.  “Greek,” she said with a smug smile, “Extra virgin, just like the boy who opened the door for me.”  She looked around and asked, “Is everyone else still sleeping?”


I tried to disappear, and just then Mr. and Mrs. Glover came in, followed shortly by Hector, then Tommy, and Ian was last.  I had just tasted my cinnamon bun, which was still warm and delicious.  The coffee was neither, so I put it in the microwave for a minute as conversations picked up behind me.


There was a lot to decide about getting Bernie and the police in to visit Russ, but I wasn’t going to push it.  I figured the topic would come up during or just after our meal, and if it didn’t then it didn’t.


Of course my phone rang right then and it was Bernie calling.  I backed out of the kitchen and turned down the hall before I picked it up.


After our hellos, Bernie asked, “Are the Glovers up?  I really hope we can get an investigator in to see Russ today.  The police are coming up with dead-ends all over the place.   They have some preliminary DNA results, and they’re what you’d expect.  No man in either family fathered the baby that the girl, Joyce, was carrying.  That may not have much to do with the killings, or it may be everything.  I have a good, clear photo of Mr. Bennett that was taken just a few weeks ago when he won an award at work.”


Something in Bernie’s tone made me say, “You sound like you don’t think he’s the killer.  That’s changed since last night?”


Bernie made a little sound, maybe licking his lips.  “I don’t want to speculate too much, Paul.  It seemed plausible that Bennett was screwing his niece and got caught out by his sister or brother-in-law, but now it seems more likely that someone else wanted us to believe that.  At least with Bennett we had a knowable individual. Now we’re back to a big man in denims, which probably fits half the men in Vermont.  That makes it even more important that we see Russell as soon as possible, and we can just hope that he recognized whoever attacked him.”


“What about Bennett?” I asked.  “If he didn’t do it, then where is he?”  I think I answered my own question before I finished asking it, and Bernie confirmed.


“I don’t know, Paul.  I really hope I’m wrong, but I doubt he’s still alive.  I think we’re dealing with an unknown killer still, but somebody knows him.  I hope that somebody is Russ, or that he can at least add some clues.  Bernie sighed, “Let me know when the Glovers decide something.  I did talk to the doctor last night, and he doesn’t have a huge problem with a short interview, but if he brings the boy around enough to participate it may subject him to some pain.”


“Shit,” I said.


“Those are my sentiments, exactly.  Can you do this, Paul, or should I come by?”


I thought for a minute before asking, “You want me to tell them what you told me, what the doctor told you, and then ask for the interview?”


Bernie said, “Leave out my speculations, and that’s exactly what I hope you’ll do.  Give them the facts and make sure they see the dilemma we’re facing, but don’t push.  Call me if questions come up.  Are you okay with this?”


I mumbled, “That’s the question, isn’t it?”  Then I added, “I guess as long as I don’t have to push them one way or the other I can tell them what’s going on.”


Bernie said warmly, “Thanks, Paul.  You’re growing up, and I’m learning that I can depend on you.  Just don’t dwell on this.  Do your part and then go and have some fun.”

I snickered, “I usually do.”


Bernie said, “Call me,” and hung up.


I headed back to the kitchen feeling a little shaky, hoping that Hector had hung around.  Hector was there for sure, but I needed Tom first.  There was no easy way to put it, so when I walked in I said, “Hang out for awhile, Hector.  I need to talk to you, but Tom first.”  I looked at Tom, who had food still on his plate, and said, “Finish up.  Let me get something.”


I got a cereal bowl and put a spatula full of omelet in it, sprinkled on some pepper, and sat with the others.  I said, trying not to sound too mysterious, “Things are happening … changing.  Is there any more orange juice?”


My mother brought me a glass of juice.  Nobody said much, but I felt eyes on me, yet when I looked everyone seemed busy. I was hungry and not hungry, and I took my time eating so I wouldn’t feel sick.  When I was done I looked at Tom, and then everyone else.  I said, “I have to talk to Tommy.  Give us a few minutes?”


I led Tom to the downstairs foyer and told him what I’d learned from Bernie.  “Tom, if you think different say so, but I don’t think Ian should hear this unfiltered.”


Tom nodded, “He’s too young.  I agree.”


“Can you do something to keep him occupied for about half an hour?  You can tell him what’s going on, but only sort-of.  Don’t talk about murders or sex if he doesn’t ask.  You need some money?”


I didn’t like the look on Tom’s face when I asked that, and said quickly, “Of course you don’t.”  I laughed.  It was a little laugh, but all I needed to let off the tension I was feeling. I reached in my pocket and held all my money out to Tom.  He backed off a little, and I said, “Take it.  Your pocket’s as good as mine.  We’re gonna spend it anyhow.”


Tom came over and took the money.  “How much… never mind.”  He smiled and said, “I can treat you now, right?  With your own money?”


I said, “It was never my money, man, but it’s yours now.  You don’t have to treat me or anybody else if you don’t want to.”  I smiled, “You can spend a few bucks on Ian.  Just don’t overdo it.”  I grinned, “We don’t want to spoil him.”


Tom looked at me and his face broke out in a smile.  “I want to spoil him, at least a little.”


I hesitated before I said, “I know what you mean.  I think everyone wants to spoil Ian.”


“Does that mean I shouldn’t?”


I said, “It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want to.  Just don’t go overboard.  The kid has to go back to his real life one of these days.”


Tom nodded, and we went back to the kitchen.  While Tom was trying to engage Ian, I led Hector out into the hall and told him what I’d said to Tom.  He already knew some of it, so it didn’t take long.  We went back to the kitchen.  Ally had left for work and Ian and Tom had gone off somewhere, so it was my mother and Mr. and Mrs. Glover.


I told them what I’d learned from Bernie, and said how important Russ was right then.  I explained what the doctor had told Bernie, and Mr. Glover said, “Russ will take it.  He’s known pain before, and he’ll know it again.  This is kinda bigger than he is, isn’t it?  I know my son, and I know he’ll be angry if he finds out we didn’t give him this chance to help.”


I looked at Mr. Glover, and his face was firm.  I turned to his wife and she nodded.  I said, “I’ll call Bernie.”


+ + + + + + + +


We met at the hospital at eleven-thirty as arranged.  Bernie had picked up the Glovers earlier so they could talk about their concerns.  I rode over with Tom, Ian, Hector and Darius in a Suburban the security company sent for us.


Things were changing rapidly.  With the expectation that Russ would be able to provide information, he was being moved out of the ICU to a separate wing of the hospital where he could have a guarded room.  The guards would be provided by our security service, but would also take direction from the Boston police.  Hector explained that there was an audio/video hookup to the police command in Stockton, to his company, and to Bernie’s office.


Everyone was welcome to present questions, but only Bernie would put them to Russ, and the audio would be one-way outbound except for people who chose to wear earphones in the room.


Just before we reached the hospital, Hector handed me his cell phone and said, “Look at this picture.  It’s Russell just a few minutes ago.  Get your shock now, because Attorney Sutton wants you to go in smiling, and to keep those smiles.”


I looked at the little picture and handed the phone to Tom while I looked away with tears in my eyes.  What kind of monster would do that to a living person?  The damage done to Russ, just his face, was beyond my comprehension.  Days after he was beat up, his face was still all swollen, and the parts not bandaged were every dark color from the crayon box.  It was hideous, and I couldn’t fathom the kind of anger it would take to hurt someone like that.


I wondered why it was Russ.  Did he see something or hear something, or did he just recognize someone who didn’t want to be seen?  None of it made any sense to me.  I decided I could smile, though; not at Russ, but I could smile for him.  If he was only half as tough as his father he’d make it, and make a nice life for himself.  I could smile about that.


I looked at Tom, who also had tears in his eyes after looking at the picture of Russ.  I used my first fingers to pull my lips into a smile that was probably hideous, and Tom mouthed, “Fuck you,” and grinned anyhow.  We’d be okay, and Ian already knew what to expect.


We pulled up to the sidewalk in front of the hospital and got out of the car.  Mrs. Glover was there and waved to us.  She smiled when Ian ran up and hugged her, and she stroked his hair while she said, “I’m glad you’re all here.  Mr. Sutton is up with Russ now making sure they can communicate.  She looked at me, “He wants you and Tommy to come up immediately, and he’ll call the rest of us in when they’re ready to start the …”


The pause went on too long, and Hector said, “Visit.  It’s a visit.”


Mrs. Glover smiled.  “Thank you, Hector.  Yes, let’s go visit Russell in his new room.”


We followed her in, and through a maze of hallways to an elevator.  She pressed the button, and after several minutes the doors opened.  Nobody got out, and I was the last one in.  I looked at the buttons and there were only ‘G’ and ‘SP’ so I selected the latter, and up we went.


It seemed to take a long time, but the elevator eventually stopped and the doors opened.  It was clear that ‘SP’ meant it was a security patrolled floor.  There was a desk right in front of us with a uniformed security guard right there, and there were armed guys on both sides of the desk.  The guy at the desk smiled and said, “Mrs. Glover, you and Ian can go through.”  He looked at the rest of us and at his computer screen for a minute, and smiled again. “I just have to ask you to sign in here, gentlemen, and please, please remember to sign out when you leave.”


He pushed a digital pad toward us and laid a stylus on it.  We signed in beside our names, and Mrs. Glover led us down the hall.  She stopped outside a door with a window into a room with quite a few people in it.  She said, “Let me bring Paul and Tom to see Russ.  You others can wait in here.  I’ll be right back.”


When Ian tried to follow us, Hector held him back with a hand on his shoulder.  Ian didn’t argue.


We followed Mrs. Glover down the hall a short way, and she stopped at a door where a guy was sitting outside.  He had a pistol on his belt and a rifle in his hands, and he said simply, “Go on in.”


Mrs. Glover opened the door, but closed it after us while she stayed outside.  The room was pretty big, and Bernie turned to us when we came in.  He smiled and said quietly, “I’m glad you’re here.  You know Russ, right?”


I looked at the bed with Russ in it and smiled despite myself.  He was battered for sure, and the picture I’d seen actually looked better than he did in person, save one difference.  Russell’s eyes were bright, and they seemed welcoming.  His right arm was in a cast from the shoulder, but he wiggled the fingers of his left hand in welcome.  I knew his jaw was wired shut, yet he still managed a smile.


I said, “Hey, Russ.  You remember the cheese man, right?”


I backed off a little so he could see Tom, and I swear there was delight in his eyes.  I said, “Yes, it’s the Cheez-Whiz kid, live and in person.  Say something, Tom.”


“Something Tom.”  When Tommy said it, Russ almost convulsed with laughter, and Bernie stood to stop us.


He looked at Russ and asked, “Are you ready?  Be honest because I’m not here to push you in any way.”


Russ blinked, and raised the first finger of his left hand.


Bernie said, “Alright, then.  I’m going to ask the others in and start the conference call.  Is there anything you need before we start?”


Russ looked bewildered for a moment, but he relaxed and put up two fingers.


Bernie turned to me and said, “Let me start the conference call now.  We’ll leave the voice open until we start the interview so everyone will have a chance to say hello.”  He turned to a laptop and typed in some codes.  Then a split screen came up.  The one on the left had to be the conference room in Bernie’s offices.  There were two people sitting there.  The window on the right was our dining room at the mountain house.  All the chairs were on one side of the table with half a dozen people sitting in them, including Dad.  Then a small window popped up in the bottom middle of the screen.  It was focused on Russ in his bed, but you could also see me and Tom and part of Bernie.  The words ‘mute on’ popped up, and changed to ‘mute off’.  Bernie asked, “Can everyone hear me?  This is attorney Sutton in Boston.  Hold the introduction until I ask the rest of our group to step in the room.”


I waved at the camera and said, “Hi Dad.”


Dad smiled and said, “Hello Paul.  Hi, Tom, and hello to you, Russell.  I bring you best wishes from everyone at the Danamat.  If you’re wondering where all the cards and letters are, it’s because they were delivered here, and you’ll have them this afternoon.  Your whereabouts haven’t been made public, at least for the time being.  For now, just hang in there and get healed up.”


Bernie came back in, followed by six men including Mr. Glover, Mrs. Glover and another woman, and Ian, all carrying chairs.  They lined up the chairs in an empty part of the room, and Bernie started off with introductions.  I had heard most of the names in conference calls, and it was interesting to put names to the faces.  When that was done, Bernie set some ground rules, and with Russell’s help showed everyone how Russ would respond:  one finger for yes, two for no, three if he didn’t know, and four if he didn’t understand the question.  Everyone in the hospital room had a pad of paper, and they were to hand Bernie their written questions.  One lady who had come in put on earphones, and she also had a pad of paper.  She was there to take questions from the other locations and pass them to Bernie.


Bernie said, “I’m going to mute the sound from the remote locations now, and go through the legalities.  For the record, this interview is being recorded on a computer system owned and provided by the state of Vermont for the express purpose of gathering information from Russell Allen Glover of Stockton, Vermont.”


He went on with a lot of hoopla that seemed to cover everything, even indicating that Russell’s parents were present and had agreed in writing to the interview.  He said a lot of words, and I suppose they were necessary.  Still, it seemed like a long time when he finally sat down close to Russ and held out an eight by ten photo that only Russ could see.


“Do you recognize this man, Russ?”


Russ really stared at the photo, but eventually put up two fingers.


“You haven’t seen this man before?”


Two fingers.


Bernie turned the picture toward the laptop and held it steady for a minute, then handed it to the people seated behind him.  “That is a picture of Mr. Robert Bennett from New Jersey,”


He turned back to Russ and said, “Russell, let me ask you something.  Was it dark out when you left for work last Saturday?”


Two fingers.


“It was daylight?”


One finger.


“You got into a fight on the way to work.  Is that right?”


Two fingers, then one finger.


“Yes and no?  Let’s sort this out.  Did someone face you and challenge you to a fight?


Two fingers.


“Was it a man you fought with, an adult?”


One finger.


“Did he jump you from behind?”


Two fingers.


“Were you approaching each other, and he just started hitting you?”


One finger, then two.


“Did he knock you down?”


One finger.


“Did he have a weapon?”


One finger.


“Was it a shotgun?”


One finger.


“Did he point it at you?”


One finger.


Bernie paused for a minute.  “Okay, you were walking to work and you came upon a man with a shotgun.  He knocked you to the ground and pointed the gun at you.  Do you have any idea why he didn’t fire the gun?”


One finger.


“Did you somehow get the upper hand on him?”


Three fingers, one finger.


Bernie stared at Russ for a moment and said, “I’m trying to decide what you mean.  Did you knock him down so it was a fair fight?”


One finger.


Bernie smiled and mumbled, “Good for you.  Was this man much bigger than you?”


One finger.


Bernie scratched his ear and said, “I should have asked this.  Do you know the man who attacked you?”


Russ shot his finger straight up, and I could see in his eyes that was the question he was waiting for.


Bernie smiled at him.  “Good job.  Does he live in Stockton?”


Three fingers.


“Does he work in Stockton?”


Two fingers.


Bernie looked perplexed.  “You know who he is, though?”


One finger.


“From church?”


Two fingers.


“From what,” Bernie mumbled.  “From school?”


One finger. 


“It’s someone from your school?”


Two fingers.


Bernie said, “Not your school.  Another school then?”


One finger and the trace of a smile.


“Did you ever attend this school?

One finger.


“Your middle school?”


One very emphatic finger


“This man worked at the school?”


One finger.


“A teacher?”


One finger, then two.


“What?  A custodian or cafeteria worker?”


Two fingers.


I glanced at the computer screen and most of the people in Vermont were on their cell phones, and a few had disappeared.


Bernie looked at Russ.  “Is he an administrator there?”


One finger shot up again, and Russ emphasized up by jabbing it skyward.


“The principal?”


Russ shot his finger up and down as if he was applauding Bernie’s genius.


Bernie asked one last question.  “Is he a big man?”


And Russ lifted a single finger one last time.


Bernie said, “Let’s go next door, people.  Paul, Ian, Tom, you can stay with Russ.  His doctor should be here soon, and you can head on home when he comes.  I know there are things they have to do here, and we’re all in the way.”  He smiled, “Thanks for coming.  I think we know our man now.  If he’s still in the area he should be in custody before you leave the building.”


Bernie walked out, so it was just us, Russ, and the lady packing up the laptop.  Russ was out cold.  His hands were under the covers, but his right foot was sticking out.  I grasped his ankle as I went by and said, “You’re the man, Russ.”


Tom said, “I’ll be back.”


Ian whispered, “I love you.”


We walked out into the hallway intent on leaving, but Bernie intercepted us.  “Ian, can I ask you a few questions?”


Ian seemed surprised and stood up a bit straighter.  “Sure.”


Bernie said, “Your mother just told me that you’re in middle school already, is that right?”


“Kind of,” Ian replied.  “My class is at the middle school, but we’re not really in it.”  He looked up hopefully, “I will be in the fall.”


Bernie looked at me and Tom to interpret, and Tom asked Ian, “What grade are you in?”


“Five,” Ian said.  “Six, seven and eight are middle school, but we go there because there’s room.”


I could see that Bernie understood, and he asked, “How many teachers are there for the fifth grade?”


“There’s two,” Ian said.  “Well, the art teacher comes on Tuesday and the music teacher comes on Friday.  That’s four.”


“And your principal?”


“That’s Mr. Schiffer.  He runs the whole place.”


“Is Mr. Schiffer a big man?”


Ian grinned, “Is a moose a big deer?  Hell yeah, he’s big.  He’s big like Stone Cold.”


Bernie looked at us again.  I didn’t have a clue, but Tom said, “Pro-wrestler.”


Bernie nodded and looked back to Ian.  “Are the students afraid of him?”


Ian shook his head, “Nah, he’s like a big puppy.  I think he really likes kids.”


Bernie cocked his head and asked, “Does he have to punish students sometimes?”


Ian shrugged.  “I guess so.  I didn’t get in any trouble, but I think he just talks to them, maybe gets them in trouble at home.”


Bernie put his hand on Ian’s shoulder and said, “Let’s sit with your parents, okay?”


Ian looked at him and asked, “Am I in trouble?”


Bernie smiled, “You’re not in trouble.  It’s me.  I’ll be more comfortable if they’re present to hear what you have to say.”  He turned to me, “I’ll call you later, Paul.  Why don’t you collect up your security team and treat them to a nice lunch on me?”


I looked at Tom, who put on his best feed me face.  I was getting hungry myself, so I asked Bernie if he knew where Hector and Darius were.  He pointed the way to the room where everyone had been earlier.  I led Tom in, and Hector and Darius appeared to be relieved that we’d shown up.  I wasn’t sure what was going on in there, but I asked kind of timidly, “Can we go now?  We’re hungry.”


Hector and Darius both shot to their feet, said some hurried pleasantries to the people there, and practically pushed us out the door.  We hurried along the hallway and I asked, “What’s going on?”


“Lunch,” Hector said.  “You said you’re hungry.  We’ll talk after you eat something.”


In the elevator, I said, “Bernie’s buying.  That means whatever we want, wherever we want.”


Darius grinned, “How about some nice smoked salmon in Seattle?”


Tom looked pained, so I said, “That sounds good, but it wouldn’t be lunch anymore.  How about some good seafood in Boston?  How about some pasta?  A burger?”


“What do you recommend?” Hector asked me.


The door opened to the ground floor and we stepped out into the hall.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “An Irish Pub, maybe?  They’re neat, and the food is good.”


“Is there one near here?”  Darius asked.


I said, “They’re all near here.  Everything in Boston is near here.”


We were headed for the street, and all took our phones out to turn them on.  “Do we still have a car?” I asked.


It was suddenly funny.  As our phones found their service, they all rang within a minute of each other.  My call was from Dana.


“Hi,” I said.


Dana said, “You were there.  Russ said Mr. Schiffer did that to him.”  His voice lowered, “Man, that’s hard to believe.  He was always the nicest guy, helping out my mother and me.  Could Russ be wrong?”


I needed doubt like a hole in the head.  “I guess anything’s possible, Dana, but Russ was up close and getting the shit knocked out of him.  You went all through school with Russ, right?”


“Yeah.  But Mr. Schiffer was our teacher in third grade.  He got us into the ski program, and he made it so everything was free.  Honest, it was the first time in my life when I could just have fun.  He brought us back and forth when we couldn’t find a ride.  Mr. Schiffer knew about me, too.  He told me I could make a lot more money skiing well than I could swiping apples and … other things.”


Whether I needed a doubt or not, I had one then.  I said slowly, “Okay, so Mr. Schiffer did all this.  Did he ever ask anything in return?”


Dana sounded surprised, “From me?  He just told me to focus; I could do it.  Focus; I could get better.  Focus; I could be the best.  It wasn’t just me, it was everyone.  He was the best teacher, too, and when he got promoted to assistant principal he was still there helping all the kids, and even when he was the principal he did the same things.”


I was really taken aback.  “Do you think Russ could be wrong?  He got beaten to hell and back, and he fought back.  As far as anybody knows, he’s the only person alive who saw the killer.  Even if he wasn’t the killer, Russ said it was Mr. Schiffer that almost killed him, and if you saw Russ today you know someone tried to kill him.  I don’t think he’d make a mistake like that.”


Dana was silent for awhile, and then he sighed, “You’re right.  It’s just real hard to believe.” 


I mumbled, “I guess we have to wait and see now.  Is anything else going on?”


Dana said, “Yeah.  We’re all going to Lori Alden’s funeral at three.  I think the whole town’s going.”


I felt awful then.  I’d forgotten about the young mother who had been murdered, and I was angry with myself.  “Is Dad taking care of the expenses?  I feel like shit, Dana.  I never thought about what’s going on there.”


Dana hesitated again and said, “Don’t worry.  I feel bad enough for both of us.  Lori’s boss started a fund at the bank.  I know Dad gave something, and one of the policemen said money is coming in from all over … even foreign countries.  Gretchen’s following the news from Germany, and her parents sent a contribution.  We have a donation bucket at the shop, and it keeps filling up.”


“Wow.  That gives me some faith that most people are still okay.  You expect friends and neighbors to help out, but complete strangers …”


“I know,” Dana said.  “The money is in a trust for the baby; it’s not like a gift to the family or anything.  Dad said the court will appoint a trustee to look after the kid and make sure the money is spent for his benefit.  Mom said Lori’s sister and her husband want to adopt him, and it sounds like they’re pretty solid.  I guess things will work out.  That part anyhow.”


“That’s good,” I said.  “Let me call you later, okay?  Did I tell you Hector is here?”


“Yeah, you did.”


I said, “Well, he’s hungry, and you know what that means.  I think we’re all hungry.  Better yet, you call me after the funeral.  Okay?”


“Okay,” Dana said.  “I’ll talk to you later.”


We clicked off.  Hector and Darius were facing in different directions away from me, both on their phones, and Tom was there with a bemused look on his face.  I smiled at him and asked, “What?”


“Are you going to feed me?  I need some ballast.”


I laughed and tapped Hector’s shoulder.  He turned and said, “Wait a minute,” into his phone.


I said, “Tom’s hungry.  I’m hungry.  Can we get to a restaurant, or should we go on our own?”


Hector held his first finger up, and said into the phone, “I have to go.  The boys are hungry.  I’ll get back to you, okay?”  After a second he closed the phone and looked at me, “It’ll take ten, fifteen minutes to get a car.”


I said, “It’ll take ten, fifteen seconds to get a cab,” and I walked to the curb with my hand in the air.  A small cab, a Nissan or something, pulled right over.  I opened the door and asked, “Can you fit the four of us?”


The driver looked, winced, and said, “Big guy in the front, for sure.”


I turned around and said, “Hector, sit up front.  Tom, take the middle.  Darius behind the driver.”


As we got in the driver asked, “Where to?”


The driver was a dark skinned man.  I said, “A restaurant.  Are you Italian, Greek?”


The guy scowled, “Portuguese.  What’s it to you?”


I grinned, “It’s good if you can bring us to a Portuguese restaurant that has grilled sardines at lunchtime.”


The guy looked over his shoulder at me and said, “Cambridge.”


I said, “You’re the boss.” 


He put the car in gear and drove smoothly.  After a few minutes he said, “They may not grill sardines at lunch.  Try the pork and clams, and go back on the weekend.”


“It’s a good place?”  I asked.  “It doesn’t belong to your brother-in-law does it?”


He laughed, “No, it’s no relation, just the best place around.”  He laughed again and said, “It’s where I proposed to my wife, and I think we ate there each time one of our kids was conceived.  You’ll see.”


It wasn’t a long ride, and when we got there I had a recollection of having dinner there before.  Atasca: Mom and Ally often spoke of the place with reverence. This didn’t look like the same place, and I wondered about my memory.


We were invited to sit where we wanted to, inside or on the patio.  I looked at the other guys and asked, “Patio?”


Hector said, “Let me take a look at it,” and followed the hostess.  She came back in a minute and picked up menus before leading us outside.  Hector was standing by a glass-topped table under an umbrella, and there was a lot of foliage and a little waterfall behind him.


I said, “This looks nice,” to nobody in particular, and took a seat.  I think I was weak with hunger by then.  The waitress got four orders for water and left us to look at the menus.  I immediately saw grilled sardines listed under appetizers, and found the pork with clams on the meal side of the menu.


Everyone ordered something different, and when the appetizers came we all took liberties and tasted everything.  My sardines were perfect … melt-in-your-mouth, and the linguica and pineapple Darius ordered was fantastic.  Hector had white cheese with pâté and garlic bread, while Tom ordered liver fried with garlic and onions.


After we ate, we sat back in our chairs over coffee.  We were all full, and I think everyone felt as sleepy as me.  I actually looked around to see if they had some hammocks, but the place wasn’t quite that authentic.  I closed my eyes and mumbled, “Wake me up when it’s time to go.”


Hector poked my shoulder and said, “It’s time now, amigo.  Are you paying the bill?”


I opened my eyes and asked, “Is there an alternative?”  On the lack of response I looked at the bill, realized that Tom had the money, and slid the little tray over to him.  He counted out some money to leave on top of it, and we stood to leave.


Hector burped when he stood, a rumble that seemed to work it’s way up from his toes, and his “Excuse me” came out in a little voice, like there was another burp on the way.


On the ride home, I asked Hector and Darius if they thought the mystery was over.  Hector said, “It sounds like it.  What do you hear?”


Before I could respond, Darius said, “It sounds good.  You have a school principal who maybe likes little girls too much, and gets to fooling around with them.  I don’t know.  It could happen.”


Tom added, “It does happen.  You hear it everyday:  teachers, preachers, cops, scout leaders, karate senseis, camp counselors, choir leaders, plain old neighbors … a whole lot of people seem to get their jollies with little kids.  I bet that principal got the little girl pregnant and … I don’t know … maybe the family called him on it, or maybe he just found out somehow.  He was trying to protect his rep, so he killed the family and their visitors.  He killed the girl at the gas station, probably just because she saw him, and I’ll bet my last dollar he thought he killed Russ Glover. If he did kill Russ, then he might have been home free.”


I asked, “What about the lady he shot at?  She was hanging out her laundry.”


Tom said, “He shot at the kids.  She got in the way when the gun came up.  Maybe he thought they would know him, but it was too far for anyone to see.”


Hector said from the front seat, “I like the way your mind works, Tom.  What can you say about the trooper who was shot?”


The cab braked precipitously and we were in front of Mom’s house.  Tom paid the driver and we went inside, with Hector’s last question forgotten.


We all went to our rooms to clean up and rest.  I washed my face, took my shirt off, and stretched out on the bed, wondering if we’d seen the end of the rampage in Vermont


I was a little sleepy from lunch, but didn’t intend to take a nap.  That wasn’t about to happen anyhow, because my cell phone rang just after my head hit the pillow.  It was Bernie. 


“Paul, listen.  I’m heading to Vermont as soon as we get off the phone.  They arrested Schiffer, but he got belligerent and I’m afraid some people might claim his rights were violated.  I want to be there every time he’s moved to make certain there are no more lapses.  If the man is innocent I’ll apologize, but I don’t want him to go free on an idiotic technicality.”


I was shocked.  “That could happen?”


Bernie said, “It can, and it does, and more often than is reasonable.  In this case it can be argued.  Mr. Schiffer is a two-hundred-fifty pound body builder, and when he charged at the arresting officers their reaction can justly be called self-defense.  That can’t become a pattern, though, and I won’t let it.  I should be in Stockton in two or three hours.  You’re secure here, aren’t you?”


“Hector’s here.  We’re fine.”


Bernie’s voice softened, “That’s good.  You just keep on looking after the Glovers.  If Russell continues to improve at the rate he is, he should be released to go home in two or three weeks.  Dana wants to have some kind of welcome home for them, and I like that idea.  Also, your father has an offer for Mr. Glover, so things will get better.  Questions?”


I snickered, “The questions build up when I listen, and you answer them before I have to ask.  What kind of offer?”


Bernie said, sounding bemused, “Ask your dad.  I have to hit the road.”  He clicked off before I could say goodbye.


I looked at my phone and then closed it, thinking I owed Bernie’s shoes some new marbles.



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